This is an excerpt from the March 2014 issue of Guitar World. For the rest of this story, plus the 50 Greatest Eric Clapton Songs of All Time and features on Mike Bloomfield, Duane Allman and the Layla sessions, plus Johnny Winter, Don Felder, Guitar World's Readers Poll results and more (including gear reviews and John Petrucci's monthly column) — check out the March 2014 issue at the Guitar World Online Store.
Boston Strong: Following the death of Brad Delp, Tom Scholz releases Boston’s last recordings with the singer: Life, Love & Hope, an album 11 years in the making.
Boston’s Tom Scholz has a musician’s soul and a scientist’s obsession with the phenomena of sound and music.
Those qualities have helped him and his long-running group create some of the most lavishly layered, hooky guitar rock of the Seventies and beyond. The guitarist was a senior product design engineer for Polaroid in the Seventies who spent his off hours tinkering meticulously on a set of demo recordings in his home studio.
Those demos resulted in Boston’s self-titled 1976 debut, which took radio by storm, fast-tracked by hits like “More Than a Feeling,” “Peace of Mind” and “Smokin’.” The disc went on to sell 17 million copies. Boston followed it up two years later with the best-selling Don’t Look Back.
Subsequent albums have taken considerably longer to complete. Boston’s new album, Life, Love & Hope, was a staggering 11 years in the making, but it is a bold reaffirmation of the epic production values that made Seventies rock the apotheosis of what we now call classic rock. Its tracks are awash in chunky phalanxes of stacked rhythm guitars deployed with razor-sharp precision, richly sustained leads that reach for the sky in glorious melody, celestial clouds of background-vocal majesty, classically tinged keyboards…
In short, it’s the whole high-calorie, big-rock tour de force.
Although Life, Love & Hope is only Boston’s sixth album in 37 years, you’d be wrong to assume Scholz spends little time in the recording studio. He lives there. But when he’s in there, he sweats the details in a big way, piling up guitar tracks and constantly tweaking, reshaping and re-recording song arrangements. He accomplishes much of this through the labor-intensive practice of splicing analog multitrack tape. In almost every respect, Scholz still does things the way they were done during rock’s Seventies heyday.
“Part of the difficulty in the studio is agonizing over what to leave out,” he says. “It’s very time consuming, and 99 percent of what I record, nobody else hears but me.”
I’ve heard that you were deliberately writing songs in the classic Boston vein for this new album.
I think some of the songs are definitely in the classic Boston sound and style. On one or two of them, I even went back to my first Marshall amps, which were used on the first two albums, just because they seemed right. But I never sit down and reference my current guitar sounds or mixes to the first Boston album or any other album. For some reason, though, that’s where my brain seems to go. But at the same time, some of this record is a pretty wild departure. I definitely did some experimenting and took some chances.
Keyboards figure more prominently on this record than on some of Boston’s earlier work. But then piano is your first instrument, right?
It is. And I ended up going back there for a lot of songs on this album, although I didn’t deliberately set out to do that. There are many places on the album that feature piano. The instrumental “Last Day of School” was originally a piano song and a very difficult part to play, by the way, so I spent a lot of time perfecting it. And once I got it onto tape, I started hearing guitars, so I began laying in all these guitar parts. And it somehow ended up being dominated by the guitars, so now you can hardly hear the piano stuff that I had to work so hard to perfect!
Who are your big songwriting influences?
Rachmaninoff, Beethoven and Tchaikovsky. [laughs] But I will also say I have a great appreciation for Joe Walsh and Jimmy Page, and an enormous regard for Jeff Beck’s guitar-playing style and some of those earlier bands that had great harmonies, like the Hollies.
And like all prior Boston albums, you recorded this one with an all-analog signal chain. Why is that?
Analog sounds so much better. I frankly can’t listen to digital audio for more than a few hours without really starting to hate what I’m listening to. Even decent 24-bit digital resolution really irritates me after a while. So I need something that I can listen to for months on end, thousands of plays. And analog is still the bill for that. My primary tape machine is a 3M M79, the one I’ve been using since 1977. I do a lot of rearranging on tape, so I needed a machine that would handle splices really seamlessly, and the M79 is it. I know it’s considered a little extreme that I record on this analog gear. My repair tech refers to my studio as an archeological dig.
For the rest of this story, plus the 50 Greatest Eric Clapton Songs of All Time and features on Mike Bloomfield, Duane Allman and the Layla sessions, plus Johnny Winter, Don Felder, Guitar World's Readers Poll results and more (including gear reviews and John Petrucci's monthly column) — check out the March 2014 issue at the Guitar World Online Store.
Photo: Trent Bell